Ideal Utilization of Down Time Between Flocks: Litter Caking (Part 1 of 3)

The down time between flocks is a critical part of a grower’s litter management program that can either make the house run more smoothly during the next flock or make things worse. Unfortunately, this is one of the more important management opportunities that is often neglected.Down time is a critical period in the production cycle that allows the litter to release moisture and ammonia while also allowing for pathogen reduction due to exposure to ammonia and changes in moisture levels of the litter.

Growers should walk their houses soon after catch to observe the litter and identify areas that may have been problems during the flock. These problem areas will be visible due to the presence of caked litter. The location, character and depth of caked litter should be noted.

Houses that had proper direction of airflow and good drinker system management during the flock will only have dry, thin cake underneath the water lines. Sidewall caking will be absent. If the cake present under the water lines is still wet and soft or extends deep towards the pad, then there are drinker management issues that need to be addressed. If sidewall caking is present, its cause needs to be determined.

If the caking is present down the length of the sidewall in the brood chamber, its cause is most likely improper airflow causing moist, cold air to fall to the floor during minimum ventilation, condensation on concrete footers during cold weather, a crack along the entire sill, or insufficient litter depth along the sidewall. If the sidewall caking is present in patches, then cold air is hitting the floor just in that location. This can be due to inlets that do not close tightly, air leaks along the footers, loss of insulation due to beetle damage, or insufficiently insulated evaporative cooling pads. It may also be a drainage issue resulting is water seepage into the house.

If patches of cake are present in random areas of the house, then a roof leak just above the caked litter is the usual culprit. If the litter has caked over from sidewall-to-sidewall, the grower did not maintain proper relative humidity during brooding which is usually the result of new litter, inadequate litter depth, and/or insufficient ventilation.

Observing the location and depth of the caked litter gives the grower the information necessary for proper de-caking and allows corrections to be made to prevent cake formation during the next flock.

Have questions about assessing caked litter? Contact your Jones-Hamilton representative to discuss your house conditions.

Ready to read more? Check out part 2 of this 3-part series on downtime.